Life with Dead Metaphors: Impairment Rhetoric in Social Justice Praxis
Still we say color blind, deaf to the call of justice, suffering from historical amnesia; blind to structural oppression, limping under theweightof inequality;anamputated self, simply crazy, subject to colonial aphasia, agnosia, even alexia; nothing but a deformed autonomy made to fit a crippled economydevastatingly disabled. What compels such impairment rhetoric? It is obviously steeped in ableism punctuated with medical overtones. These rhetorical expressions also include disability as a devalued and excludable type. And yet, is there something not so obvious that we should notice here? Thisarticle explores thenot-so-obviousby
suggesting that something more than disableism is driving the rhetorical use of disability metaphor; and that something more than a dismissive diagnosis of cultural disablement can be found when metaphor is engaged in a non-rhetorical fashion. I want neither to ‘‘overlook,’’ nor ‘‘forgive,’’ but rather to ‘‘understand’’ how it is that otherwise politically astute and socially aware people and/or movements want and seemingly need impairment rhetoric to drive their social justice endeavors (Arendt 308). Informed by disability studies, my exam-
ination traces theubiquityof the interest that generates the use of impairment rhetoric within social justice praxis. I show how this interest is tied to a history of the genesis of disability studies itself. I also demonstrate that impairment rhetoric reproduces a nature-culture divide (Linton 8; Michalko 30). Rhetorical uses of this taken-for-granted divide configure disability as the edge of
human life by (re)producing a conception of the human steeped in its own inhumanity. Consequently, social justice praxis forestalls the possibility of social change but not simplybecauseof thepresenceof prejudicial rhetoric. Instead, such rhetoric diminishes a radical engagement with abnormality by transmogrifying disability into a dead metaphor that people use only to diagnose injustice. Finally, working through Frantz Fanon’s metaphor of ‘‘amputation,’’ I demonstrate howdisability can open the imagination to the possibility of new worlds since it can be more than a signifier of already dead ones. Overall,mywork aims to join those critical
orientations that attempt to ‘‘reverse the hegemony of the normal,’’ as Lennard Davis puts it, by seeking ‘‘alternative ways of thinking about the abnormal’’ (49). This is why I concludewith a demonstration of how to put the brakes on impairment rhetoric by re-engaging themeaningfulness of disability through thecomplicated relationofhermeneutics ofmetaphor as a living potentiality or, as Paul Ricoeur claims, ‘‘the main problem’’ of language (134). My aim is to show how a non-rhetorical relation to disability offers an imaginative way to re-approach social justice praxis while simultaneously reconsidering theurge to re-trace the edges of the discard-able human (Bauman).